Saturday, February 11, 2006

Faith Healing

by Philip Larkin

Slowly the women file to where he stands
Upright in rimless glasses, silver hair,
Dark suit, white collar. Stewards tirelessly
Persuade them onwards to his voice and hands,
Within whose warm spring rain of loving care
Each dwells some twenty seconds.
Now, dear child,
What's wrong, the deep American voice demands,
And, scarcely pausing, goes into a prayer
Directing God about this eye, that knee.
Their heads are clasped abruptly; then, exiled
Like losing thoughts, they go in silence; some
Sheepishly stray, not back into their lives
Just yet; but some stay stiff, twitching and loud
With deep hoarse tears, as if a kind of dumb
And idiot child within them still survives
To re-awake at kindness, thinking a voice
At last calls them alone, that hands have come
To lift and lighten; and such joy arrives
Their thick tongues blort, their eyes squeeze grief, a crowd
Of huge unheard answers jam and rejoice—
What's wrong! Moustached in flowered frocks they shake:
By now, all's wrong. In everyone there sleeps
A sense of life lived according to love.
To some it means the difference they could make
By loving others, but across most it sweeps
As all they might have done had they been loved.
That nothing cures. An immense slackening ache,
As when, thawing, the rigid landscape weeps,
Spreads slowly through them—that, and the voice above
Dear child, and all time has disproved.

to read a review of Larkin's collected poems,
and an overview of his life and work
click here.

Tool or Fool?

David Brooks, on the News Hour last night:
Yeah, I really would say it's not even about Iraq; this is about four or five centuries. It's really a group of people, some educated people have who gone back to the 13th Century, some who never left the 13th Century, but basically who have decided that the way we live with this barrage of ideas, the way we live our life trying to improve ourselves, is not the way they want to live their lives.They believe the truth has been revealed and the central epic in history is not progress...

You know, there's political differences, obviously but what's at stake here is so much different. I think that the murder of Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch politician, the gay Dutch politician, who made this point, we can have multiculturalism or we can have pluralism, but we can't have both, with a subset of people that doesn't believe in pluralism that wants to enforce laws on homosexuals, on women. So you have got to make this choice and that's the choice Europe is making. I think they're feeling it much more seriously than we are but that's the choice they found they have to make.

I heard this on the radio - the TV broadcast is simulcast on the local public radio station - so I couldn't see if his face betrayed whether he knew he was being a hypocrite or whether he made these statements sincerely and obliviously bereft of the irony that he was describing in complete and accurate detail the beliefs and worldviews of the very rightwing fundamentalist Christians whose values he champions in various tones of scolding depending on the venue.

He plays, smugly, damply, a reasonable conservative on The News Hour, so his sensible and correct outrage against the narrow-religious who believe in sinfulizing gays and sinfulizing women's rights, who believe in a prescripted end narrative that regards progress as both irrelevant and blasphemous, makes Brooks either a hypocrite or a hypocrite squared. He's either saying that fundamentalist Muslims are bad when they would legislate homophobic laws and burka their women while fundamentalist Christians are devout and righteous when they would do the same, or both are equally bad in an honest moral calculus but he must not say so because the narrow-religious' support is essential in preserving the oligarchic Right's power in America. He is either a hypocrite-fool or a hypocrite-tool.

I assume it's the latter. What Brooks and all moderate Conservatives who hold their noses and tolerate the homophobic and racist and anti-feminist and theological lunacy of America's delusionally religious because of their usefulness in electoral politics fail to understand is that should the James Dobsons of America ultimately gain power, the Brooks of this country will be the first target for censoring. The fundamentalists leaders are insane, but they are not stupid: tool usage employs the communicative principle. All revolutions silence their own suspected deviants first. All impurities need be eliminated, and what is more impure than a tool's fool or a fool's tool who supports America's religious fundamentalists by condemning religious fundamentalism in the enemy?

Thursday, February 09, 2006


High Violets

Sonic Youth


The Muffs


Neko Case

And... and... XTC, a song I've not heard, an outtake from the Apple Venus albums.


I certainly meant what I said in the last post about the guns in the room, and I expected, and expect, most of them to be shot a month after the second Tuesday this coming November, but this story saying Libby testified that Cheney told him to leak Plame's name qualifies as a bazooka discharged.

Oh, by the way, I'm here to announce that back in 2002 I spoiled an Al-Qaeda attack on the tallest building here in Kensington Maryland, the Connecticut Avenue Jiffy Lube. I'm afraid I can't give you any more information than that, as giving operational details will endanger national security. You'll just have to trust me that it happened, and sleep better in the glow of my magnificence.
Chekhov's Gun

Brownie issues ultimatum to Bushco
- pay my bills or I sing.

I think we're completely correct to malign the spinelessness of certain Democrats, but let's not forget a key rule of narrative: when there's a gun in the story, at some point it's going to be used. There are a lot of plotlines surrounding this administration, and all of them have guns waiting to be fired. Ultimately, Bushco will die of its own hubristic imcompetence and avarice and effyouedness.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Life is Happy

by Albert Goldbarth

I suddenly understand; I'm watching you chop away
at a cabbage, you're humming, the kitchen is light
and knife-thrust, light and knife-thrust,
lightslaw, airslaw, and humming. That would be the way
Life gets its blade out, then goes at it
with a human heart: maybe like somebody hacking
jungle undergrowth, so the whole heart's lost in a minute,
ribbons, pulp; or maybe making an exquisite show
of almondlike slivers, holding up
the fussy ricegrain-sized inscribings, studying
its artistry from many angles, taking years,
taking seventy years; but humming
in an absentminded, pleasurable way, no matter
the time involved, or what the technique -- happy. This
was the lesson, now I remember, carried by the moted light
of the bulky, asthmatically-purring projector
they used for grade school "nature films." The room
was darkened, our tittering hushed, and then a voice,
a grave yet understanding, deeply male voice, came forth
from that machine, while on the screen a grainy lion
brought a grainy zebra down, and this was followed
by a few frames of its running with the bowel. This
was "the law of the jungle," "the law of fang and claw," and
so we understood that what we saw
as horrifying slaughter -- and that zebra's widened jaws
and splayed gray teeth would bray inside my brain
for years -- was part of a governing system, a balance:
there was pain, but it was ordered pain, and Life
was in the greenish jungle vapor, or the sky, all the while,
surveying its handiwork, calmly. Not a life, but Life
was happy, standing grandly in the kitchen
with its tools and its purview, neither king nor cabbage
more endeared to it, the knife out, at some moments
even looking like love, its hair, its hips,
its smooth, assumed efficiency,
its dearly off-key humming.
You Choose

The GOP Glee Club and Propaganda Society is in full throat over the "politicization" of Coretta Scott King's funeral yesterday. How dare Liberal mourners of a Liberal icon who was the wife of one of the major Liberal icons in American history present Liberal views at the funeral. How dare people give standing ovations, heartfelt, passionate, to Bill Clinton while golf-clapping President Bush. How dare these people, say supporters of an administration which calculates every decision on political ramifications, politicize the funeral of a political figure.

Rather than recite all the obvious reasons, at a funeral service of over 10,000 people - many of them battle-scarred veterans of the Civil Rights battles of the 1960s, most of them keenly aware of the deliberate, concerted effort by the GOP over the past 40 years to milk white resentment of black enfranchisement as political strategy - why the majority of mourners at the funeral of a civil rights icon was Liberal, let's consider two alternatives to the Conservative whining about the funeral.

First, they get it. They recognize that as a party, as conservatives, they would have opposed integration of schools in 1956 and opposed the Civil Right Act of 1964. They recognize that they currently are seeking to decimate programs which disproportionately benefit the poor in general and Blacks in particular. They recognize Republicans stoke crackers to bigotry for political gain. They understand - and expected - the funeral to play out the way it did, calculating the hit Bush would take being there would be less than the hit he would take for not being there, and they are trying to neutralize the anti-Conservative, anti-Bush, anti-Republican rhetoric of the funeral by pretending to an outraged civility which is aimed exactly at the very strategy of stoking cracker bigotry which in part causes the anti-Republican rhetoric. Business as usual, in other words.

Or, they don't get it and are genuinely puzzled and outraged.

Which is worse? They understand they're bullshit or they're bullshitters bullshitted?

Trick questions. It's both, of course.
He was voted the 19th best guitarist in rock by Rolling Stone. His album with then wife Linda, Shoot Out the Lights, was voted the 9th best album of the 80s by Rolling Stone. His music has inspired a tribute album, Beat the Retreat, with covers by X, REM, Bonnie Raitt, Dinosaur Jr, Bob Mould, among others. He was a founding member of Fairport Convention. He has released a string of solo albums, some studio, some live, six of which are listed to the left, that have all received overwhelmingly strong reviews. (You can see them over on BDRIB - top link right.)

This is not a "why isn't he more famous" column. He's made a living in music for almost 40 years now, and if he is not a household name, Richard Thompson is known to the musicians he would be flattered to be known by, and his legends of fans, who fill all the halls in all the countries he incessantly tours, solo or with his band, await each new project eagerly and with open wallets.

Just released this past Tuesday, the six CD box set The Life and Times of Richard Thompson explores RT's music from all aspects of his career, from Fairport through his collaboration with ex-wife Linda Thompson through today. As it should, the box set consists almost exclusively of live cuts; Thompson is a fine studio musician, but he excels in live performances, especially in respect to his guitar work. I've been lucky enough to see RT over - over I don't now how many times; I remember being at one of the legendary early 80s RT and LT Shoot Out the Light shows, at the long gone Bayou on K St in Georgetown, under the Whitehurst Freeway, watching them fight onstage, stopping between swipes verbal and openhand, to make ethereal music about a disintegrating marriage. I saw him last fall in Easton Maryland at the Avalon. I've seen almost every show within 100 miles of DC in between those two. I'll be seeing him again, about the same time it's the next time he's in the area.

Monday, February 06, 2006


I've always found it unnerving how completely from the discussion of terrorist attacks in America the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City by a rightwing bigots and stupid-Christians has disappeared. And completely gone from public discussion are the rightwing militias playing army in the backwoods of Crackerstan, armed to protect America from brown people and Liberals.

I've often thought that beyond the Right's bullyboy's revenge-spawned hatred of radical Islam is a deep envy of the Islamofascists' carbombers and terrorists. There is little to distinguish the world view of followers of OBL and Jerry Falwell, and that they hate each other while worshipping the same God is a reflection of competition to be Dad's favorite children, not oppositional theologies. But followers of militant Islam, they get to DO something to prove their faith, they get to blow others and themselves up for God. They get to John Wayne. While self-loathing American Christofascists wank their hallelujahs and amens on Sunday morning, praying for armegeddon, Islamic soldiers are out actively trying to spark the armegeddon. Which do you think impresses Dad more?

And now, the cartoons of The Prophet and the state-encouraged (if not state-sponsored) outrage amongst the conspicously devout in the Islamic world. The Right, typically hysterically contradictory, is blasting the Islamic kookily devout for their violent outrage against perceived blasphemy. Beyond the hypocrisy - remember the outrage, if not the street violence, sparked by Serrano's Piss Christ and the ludicrous "war" over Christmas - of the ultra-religious in this country would LOVE - absofreakinglutingly LOVE - for an explosive case of Liberal blaspheming that would fundamentally unite kooky Christians in outrage. Bill O'Reilly tried, but if he failed it's more a comment on his choice and his wankerness than a failure of perception.

Or is it? I've written about violence and the Right, how their language and images, in discussing the Left, is full of violent images and metaphors. How they are cowards. The violence in the streets of Islamic capitals may serve to feed the stereotypes necessary to the Right, but subliminally at the very least it must remind them that opportunities for violent martrydom, to prove through violence their devoutness, belongs now to the enemy. Many must find that morally untenable. That the sworn enemy is willing to die for their God, riot at blasphemies, causes worse than outrage: it sparks jealousy, it sparks envy. Eventually, as the pendulum in American politics swings back to the secular Left, it is going to spark violence. Remember the armies of Crackerstan. Remember Oklahoma City.

Sunday's All Things Considered had a long audio article on French composer Marc-Andre Dalbavie. The article makes the standard points about orchestras staying generally within the standards for financial reasons:
Commissioning and performing new music is a risky business for any classical orchestra. Creating the repertoire of the future is important, but with today's tight budgets, filling the seats of the concert hall often takes precedence.
Dalbavie, who I had never heard of, apparently is a rare exception, at least according to the piece - orchestras in Philly, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Chicago have played his work. Has anyone heard of Dalbavie or his work (supposedly very little of it has made it to recording)?

The damning word, of course, is "accessible." I was having dinner Saturday night with the professor who mentored my thesis. He is a fan of, if not a practioner of, Oulipo, and he's especially been urging me to read the American Oulipian Harry Mathews. I did read a Mathews novel, The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium, in anticipation of our dinner, and I liked it well enough, thought the conceit worked, saw the obvious intelligence at work, and I told my professor as much. Well, he said, I'm glad you liked it, but it is his most accessible. Well, excuse me. It seems to me, I said, that valuing difficulty as meritorious in itself rewards incomprehensibility, and it seems to me that priding oneself on a paucity of readers is a self-fulfilling prophesy easily achieved. Hmm, he said, and started bugging me to read Flann O'Brien. I'll be starting The Third Policeman next week.